Most travelers say the so-called change fee is the worst airline fee ever. Prices vary but legacy carriers generally charge a $150 change fee if you need to change your ticket, either because you need to move dates around, change destinations or even cancel a trip altogether. UPDATE: As of May 1, 2013, four legacy carriers raised their domestic change fees from $150 to $200.
In such cases, the fee is hard to avoid it, but there are ways.
Listen as air travel analyst Rick Seaney and editor Anne McDermott tell you why some fees stink:
Six Ways to Avoid the Change Fee
1. Make ticket changes within 24 hours
Thanks to new regulations from the Department of Transportation, you now have 24 hours to make changes to an airline tickets after booking. However, if you booked a last-minute ticket – within seven days of departure – you will still have to pay a change fee.
2. Book on airlines with low or no change fees
Southwest is the only U.S. airline with no change fee. Others, like Frontier charge only $50. JetBlue charges $100. Keep these numbers in mind when booking, especially if you think there’s possibility you’ll have to change your itinerary.
3. Pay extra for a refundable ticket
Compare prices to see the difference between non-refundable (always the cheapest option) and refundable tickets (which can be expensive). Some examples:
- American Economy Saver Fares
- Delta Flexible Fares
- Frontier Classic Plus fares
- Virgin America Main Cabin Select
In many cases refundable fares can cost significantly more than the change fee, though maybe not more than a change fee plus the fare difference – and this year, airfares keep rising.
4. Check out bundled-fee deals
Some airline options include a break on the change fee or even waiving it altogether, along with other perks you might require. Some examples:
- American’s Boarding and Flexibility: change fee discount from $150 to $75, plus early boarding
- JetBlue’s Even More Space: no change fee plus a bigger seat and early boarding
Prices vary depending on length of flight and/or destination.
5. Flight insurance
Read the fine print and do not take anyone’s word for it that the insurance covers what you need it to cover. Follow this advice whenever you buy trip insurance for any reason.
6. Never hurts to ask
Never hurts, but you may not be successful if you ask an airline to waive a change fee. The airline will simply point out that the ticket you purchased is non-refundable, and it’s called that for a reason. However, if there is an emergency, sometimes an airline will work with you. If all else fails, give it a try.